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The most delightful stadium in the world - Always have respect Vol.131

23 April 2024

The most delightful stadium in the world - Always have respect Vol.131

As the match reached the 96th minute, Ventforet Kofu made a last-ditch effort from a right side corner kick. However, the ball delivered by KOBAYASHI Iwana was parried by Korean champions Ulsan HD FC goalkeeper JO Hyeon-woo, and another Ulsan player headed the ball out of bounds.

That was when Iranian referee Mooud BONYADIFARD blew his whistle to end Ventforet’s courageous challenge, which began at the 2022 Emperor's Cup and continued through the group stages of the AFC Champions League (ACL), which began in autumn 2023, to the second leg of the round of 16 on this day, 21 February, 2024.

Ventforet, a club from the second division of the J. League (J2), qualified for the 23/24 ACL season by winning the Emperor's Cup JFA 102nd Japan Football Championship, beating five J1 clubs in a row. However, as it is an unusual feat for a J2 club to qualify for the ACL in the first place, it was widely expected that they would struggle to get out of the group stage.

There was another problem. The JIT Recycle Ink Stadium, where Ventforet play their home matches, was not available as it did not meet the ACL's facility criteria and after various arrangements it was decided that their home match would be played at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo.

But the decision raised a big question. How would we fill the 70,000-seat Japan National Stadium? How many fans and supporters would attend a weekday evening match at a stadium more than 100 kilometres away from Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture? For reference, Ventforet’s average attendance per match in the J2 League in 2022, although partially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, was only 4,930.

Ventforet’s management staff were deeply concerned about this, but then they had a eureka moment that gave them a new perspective: "Let's get fans from other clubs to come and watch our matches.”

Posters with the slogan "J-supporters, #give Kofu power" were put up at JR Shibuya station and became a trending topic among young people. Words spread on social media, creating a momentum for people to support Ventforet on their journey from J2 to the ACL.

The ACL group stage kicked off on 20 September 2023. Ventforet’s first match was a 0-0 draw away to Australian champions Melbourne City FC. However, Ventforet’s courage and aggression throughout the match won the hearts of the fans.

The first home match was against Thai champions Buriram United FC. Once again, Ventforet fought aggressively and a late goal from HASEGAWA Motoki secured their historic win. 11,802 fans turned up to cheer them on to victory. Among them there were many supporters wearing the jerseys of other clubs.

The second home match against Chinese Cup winners Zhejiang Professional FC attracted 12,256, followed by the third match against Melbourne City with 15,877. The Round of 16 match against Ulsan attracted 15,932 despite the cold rain, showing a steady increase in attendance with each match.

Responding to the growing support, Ventforet players kept the crowd on the edge of their seats in every match with their courageous displays in both offence and defence. Even in their 1-2 defeat to Ulsan, their passing and running created plenty of chances and they outshot their opponents 18-7.

The “multi-club supporters” continued to sing loudly until the end of the match.

The Ulsan players must have known what was happening. At the end of the match, they all walked over to the Ventforet supporters to show their respect, and of course the supporters responded by applauding them loudly.

It is a miracle in the world of football that fans of different clubs come together to support one club. The Ventforet players continued to attack with all their might. Ulsan, who had never underestimated Ventforet, put up a strong defensive performance. And the fans kept on cheering until the very end. On that day, the Japan National Stadium was "one of the most delightful stadiums” in the world.

Written by OSUMI Yoshiyuki (Football Journalist)

*This article was originally posted on the Japan Football Association Newsletter, “JFAnews,” March 2024 edition.

Japan Football Association Newsletter “JFAnews”

The Japan Football Association Newsletter “JFAnews” contains all the information on the Japan National Team, events hosted by JFA, tournament results, and team information throughout the nation. The official monthly magazine is a must read for coaches, referees, and all members of the football family.

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